Hideki Matsuyama, in 2014, at the start of his professional career, had just won Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament for his first PGA Tour win, and both host and player were already dreaming of what was sure to come.
“This young man’s going to win a lot of golf tournaments,” Nicklaus said.
“One of my goals since I was a little guy was to win on the U.S. PGA Tour, and now that I’ve done that, my next goal now would be to win one of the four majors,” he said.
On Sunday, at Augusta National, after a small scare on the back nine, Matsuyama did what he and the Golden Bear thought he could do.
Matsuyama, after rounds of 69, 71 and a back-nine blitzing, third-round 65, shot a one-over 73 for a 10-under total and a Masters win, his first at a major. His margin of victory was one over Will Zalatoris and three over Jordan Spieth and Xander Schauffele. The magnitude of the win may not be able to be measured in his home country.
Matsuyama becomes Japan’s first male major winner, and the celebration may not end for a while. The country loves its golf. When asked Saturday what a win would mean back home, Matsuyama said he wasn’t even sure how he could answer. He’ll have time.
No response may be as good as either his ball striking or ability to bounce back. He entered the day with a four-shot lead over Zalatoris, Schauffele, Marc Leishman, and Justin Rose, and by the end of the 1st hole, it was down to one — Matsuyama bogeyed 1, while Zalatoris birdied 1 and 2.
Over the next 14 holes, Matsuyama played three-under golf. He birdied the 2nd, while Zalatoris bogeyed ahead, to build his lead back to three. He birdied the 8th. He birdied the 9th to take a five-shot lead into the back nine at Augusta. He bogeyed 12 but birdied 13, where his tee shot hit a tree off the left side of the fairway, only for it to ricochet back into a hittable second shot.
Schauffele would not go away, then suddenly did. After going bogey, bogey, double on holes 3 through 5, Schauffele played the next nine holes at six under. On the par-5 15th, Matsuyama hit his second shot into the water behind the green, he bogeyed while Schauffele birdied, and the lead was two. After 16, the lead was still two — though it was Zalatoris now in second. Schauffele hit his tee shot on the par-3 into the water, and he triple-bogeyed the hole to drop four back.
On 18, after his win, Matsuyama took off his hat, lifted his putter and smiled before the Augusta patrons.
Just like he thought he could.
The big takeaway
Matsuyama brings Japan its first major champion in men’s golf. Two women from Japan have won majors – Hisako Higuchi (1977 LPGA Championship) and Hinako Shibuno (2019 Women’s British Open), and last week, Tsubasa Kajitani of Japan won the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. The celebration will be wild.
The big shots
- Hideki Matsuyama starts the final round at 11 under par, four shots ahead of Xander Schauffele, Marc Leishman, Justin Rose and Will Zalatoris.
- After all golfers finish the 445-yard, par-4 1st, the lead is one. Zalatoris birdies 1 and the 575-yard, par-5 2nd, while Matsuyama, Leishman and Rose bogey and Schauffele make pars. Matsuyama is at 10 under, Zalatoris at 9, Schauffele at 7 and Leishman and Rose are at 6.
- Matsuyama rebuilds his lead to three after he finishes the 2nd. Two groups ahead, Zalatoris bogeys the 350-yard, par-4 3rd, while Matsuyama birdies the 2nd. Rose and Leishman also birdie the 2nd, as did Schauffele. Matsuyama is at 11 under, Zalatoris and Schauffele at 8 and Leishman and Rose are at 7.
- Schauffele, Rose and Leishman all bogey the 3rd. Schauffele’s struggles continued over the next two holes. He’d bogey the 240-yard, par-4 4th and double-bogey the 495-yard, par-4 5th to fall to four under and seven back of Matsuyama.
- Jon Rahm, who started the day with the day at even par, rises up the leaderboard. He’d birdies the 1st, eagles the 2nd, birdies the 570-yard, par-5 8th, the 155-yard, par-3 12th and the 530-yard, par-5 15th.
- Zalatoris climbs within two of Matsuyama after he rolls in a 10-footer for birdie on the 570-yard, par-5 8th. Matsuyama is at 11 under, Zalatoris is at nine under, Rose and Rahm at six under, and Leishman and Schauffele at 5 under.
- Matsuyama birdies the 8th after chipping to within 3 feet from behind the green. Matsuyama is at 12 under, Zalatoris is at nine under, and Rahm, Rose and Schauffele are at six under. At five under are Leishman and Jordan Spieth.
- Matsuyama birdies the 460-yard, par-4 9th after spinning back his approach to within 3 feet, while Zalatoris bogeys the 495-yard par-5 10th. As the final pairing enters the back nine, the leaderboard reads: Matsuyama 13 under, Zalatoris eight under, Rahm and Schauffele six under, and Spieth, Leishman and Rose five under.
- Zalatoris bogeys the 12th to fall to seven under, and Matsuyama’s lead is six.
- Matsuyama bogeys the 12th after hitting into the back bunker with his tee shot, while Schauffele birdies it. Through 12 holes, Matsuyama is at 12 under, and Spieth, Zalatoris and Schauffele are at seven under.
- Matsuyama and Schauffele each birdie the 510-yard, par-5 13th, with Matsuyama catching a break on his tee shot after it hits a tree and ricochets back into a hittable second shot. Matsuyama is at 13 under, Schauffele is at eight under, and Spieth and Zalatoris.
- Schauffele birdies the 440-yard, par-4 14th to move within four shots of Matsuyama. He has made three birdies in a row.
- Schauffele continues to apply the pressure, and the lead is two. On the 15th, Matsuyama hits his second shot into the water behind the hole and bogeys the hole, while Schauffele birdies after getting up and down from the right greenside bunker. After 16 holes, the leaderboard reads: Matsuyama 12 under, Schauffele 10 under, Zalatoris nine under and Spieth eight under.
- Schauffele’s run ends disastrously. He hits into the water on the 170-yard, par-3 16 and triple-bogeys, while Matsuyama bogeys after a three-putt. After 16, Matsuyama is at 11 under, Zalatoris is at nine under, and Spieth and Schauffele are at seven under.
- On the 465-yard, par-4 18th, Matsuyama hits his tee shot down the middle, hits into the greenside bunker and two-putts for a bogey and a one-shot victory.